Thursday, February 17, 2011

Free Will Pt. I: An Introduction

What is free will?  Free will is just the ability to act according to your own desires and wishes.  In other words, having free will requires that you do things because you have a will (or desire) to do so.  Contrast this with a puppet that is controlled by a puppet master or a person whose body is controlled by an

We should distinguish between freedom of will and freedom of action.  Locke has us imagine a scenario where a person is locked in a room without realizing that he or she has been locked into a room.  Now, perhaps this person wants to stay in the room.  This person has freedom of will but does not have freedom of action.  He or she is doing exactly as he or she wants but he or she does not have the freedom to leave.  This paper is not concerned with freedom of action but only freedom of will.

Why is freedom of the will important?  It seems that in order to be responsible for our actions, we have to be free.  In order to be worthy of praise or blame, someone must have performed his or her actions freely.  For example, if Natalie Portman only acted in Black Swan because she had an alien in her brain controlling her actions, then it seems like she does not deserve to be rewarded with an Oscar.   Another example would be that Osama Bin Laden isn't responsible for the terrorist acts that he performs if he is only doing them because someone is controlling his actions with a remote control.  A less sci-fi example would be something like if some frat brothers drug a pledge and when the pledge passes out, they put his naked body in the middle of campus.  Because the pledge did not freely choose to strip naked and go to campus, the pledge is not responsible for this action.

Arthur Schopenhauer thinks that we have reasons to think that free will is only an illusion.  He thinks that we imagine that we have lots of options for action when in fact we do not.  He thinks that even though a man thinks that he freely chooses to stay at home with his wife, this is just like a drop of water fooling itself into thinking that it has a number of choices (it can freeze, boil or make waves) when in reality the water droplet is controlled by physical forces in the world.  The drop of water has no choice about what it does.  Schopenhauer thinks that humans lack free will in a similar way.

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